For the past week, the WAS*IS community has been mourning the termination of NOAA support for that program as such. Over the past few days, however, the conversation has turned to how the vision and purposes of WAS*IS and other similar efforts remain in force – Earth observations and natural science harnessed with the best-available social science to build public safety in the face of weather hazards. That is healthy. The reality is that these NOAA-led community collaborations are going to strengthen and improve going forward.
In side conversations, the word resurrection was even used.
Dictionaries tell us that this word originally meant “the act of rising from the dead.” Over time, its meaning and use have broadened to refer to “a rising again, as from decay, disuse, etc.; revival.” It’s easy to see why this might be applied to social-science-meteorological collaborations in the present context. And the timing – this particular weekend, celebrating both Passover and Easter – also brings comparisons to mind.
Comparisons to what? It turns out that the reason the word resurrection and its meaning has any currency stems from a singular event two thousand years ago, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to those around at the time, a man called Jesus who claimed to be the Son of God, come to Earth for forgiveness of sins, literally rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion.
There was controversy about this. Contrary to some of today’s contemporary thought, the people of that time were no more superstitious or prone to delusion than those of today. Initially, there was plenty of skepticism to go around. With good reason, no one was prepared to believe someone – anyone – could rise from the dead.
But those closest to the events were strongest in their conviction that had indeed happened.
Not to trivialize the argument, but the debate at the time bore many similarities to the climate change debate of today. The motives of the Christians were attacked. Their credentials were impugned. The disciples themselves were a ragtag bunch, and the initial discovery of the empty tomb was made by women…who were considered mere property at that time – incapable of objective, evidence-based witness. Both sides made appeals to the preponderance of the evidence. Both sides were accused of falsifying the truth – the disciples were said to have stolen the body from the grave; the religious establishment was accused of bribing the gravesite’s guards to remain silent about what happened. The establishment went further, attempting to intimidate the disciples, silence them, quell the rumors. Every bit of news was being spun…and spun again. The larger public could be forgiven for not knowing who to believe.
A senior leader finally suggested that continued establishment efforts would be counterproductive and unnecessary. He pointed out that outlier groups like the Christians were emerging all over the place at the time. Invariably, when their leaders died, their movements collapsed. In his view, the same was likely to happen here. And, in his words, should this movement prove different, to fight against it might be fighting God himself.
[A similar backing-off might be helpful (and more-than-welcome) in today’s climate debate. What Earth’s climate actually does next, and how society responds to what happens, will shape how history will see the various sides of the current argument, and the players, far more than any contemporary rhetoric. So why needlessly amp-up the argument the name-calling, the invective? ]
We know what has happened since. The movement didn’t collapse. Quite the opposite. The Roman Empire and its governance and highway infrastructure spanning the Mediterranean allowed Christianity to go viral…which it did. Today, 2000 years later, one third the world’s population holds to these beliefs, and the faith is growing most rapidly in unlikely parts of the world, such as Asia (especially after the western missionaries were kicked out so that the evangelism has been transacted Asian-to-Asian).
If resurrection is a possibility, then perhaps you and I can use the coming days and weeks to resurrect stuff, stuff that is dying daily within us. We can resurrect our fascination with the natural world. Our commitment to rational thought and discourse. Our honesty and integrity. Our respect and love for each other. Our sense of community and larger purpose, for society’s greater good.
Another reason resurrection is on my mind? My father, who died in 2003, would have been 94 years old today. If resurrection is a possibility, I (more precisely, my resurrected self) can hope to see him sometime down the road. For that matter, I can hope to see the rest of you as well.
It’ll be a good day.